• As of 8 June, Africa has recorded more than 88,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
  • In response to the coronavirus outbreak, many African governments took the decision to close educational institutions to contain the disease.
  • As a result, higher education institutions are having to rethink their approach, becoming more digitally led, and shifting to online platforms.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the unpreparedness of many higher education institutions in Africa to migrate online. When the virus first hit the continent, many African governments were scrambling to figure out how best to handle the myriad of challenges it would pose on the socio-economic growth of their countries.

Many African governments have had to temporarily close educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their respective countries. Egypt was the first African country to report a case of COVID19. Since then, Africa has recorded more than 88,000 cases with 2832 deaths and 33898 recoveries.

The closures of schools and universities is said to have impacted over 70% of the world's population. Nevertheless, recent developments indicate a recognition that education has experienced a significant shift. The leadership and managers of higher education institutions across Africa have become fully aware that empowering students to prepare for a future where pandemics such as COVID-19 and other disruptions might become a part of our daily lives also means embracing change in learning and teaching. What does this mean, and is this the right time to start?

The state of higher education in the COVID-19 era

Now may be an excellent time for higher education institutions in Africa to rethink what the future of education would look like and take practical steps towards adopting a blended learning approach in education to improve access and equity. Several universities across Africa, including the ones in countries such as Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, and Rwanda among others have moved some of their programmes to online platforms and partnered with Telco's to zero-rate these platforms. In some instances, these universities have made data packages and laptops available to some students to improve access.

Image: Statista

Currently, with an estimated 1650 higher education institutions in Africa and access for the relevant age group currently at 5%. Africa is said to have the lowest regional average in the world, about one-fifth of the global average of about 25%. However, despite the efforts to ensure smooth teaching and learning via migration to online platforms, students continue to face several challenges. According to UNESCO, 89% of students in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to household computers and 82% lack internet access. This means that these online classes cannot cater for all students.

Despite these challenges with access, we have seen some innovation in circumventing the bandwidth challenges. These include pre-recorded lectures on these zero-rated e-learning platforms, among others.

Revitalizing higher education

It is clear that technological innovations such as content management systems (CMS), learning management systems (LMS), and internet use has become a part of the DNA of higher education in Africa. These innovations, like COVID-19, have come to disrupt teaching and learning pedagogies.

Here are three ways in which higher education institutions are revitalizing education in Africa.

Blended and modular learning

COVID-19 has shown that the most powerful and positive impact on education is the digital transformation of the educational sector. The agility of many institutions and governments, especially to quickly move learning modules online and to dedicated mass media channels is admirable.

Course and programme development by university faculty are also in need of an overhaul. Lecturers and faculty are leveraging on content available online from other institutions to complement their own like never before. Students who could previously not afford the cost associated with in-person sessions would now have access to full modules for programmes online and at a reduced cost. In some cases, with a few face-to-face sessions over the programme duration.

Customized experience

Another great opportunity that comes with the digital transformation is the opportunity for customized learning. Students will benefit from customization by developing their curriculum to suit their career aspirations through data-driven suggestions from the learning management systems. Currently, some MOOCs can suggest what classes students should take depending on previously taken courses and performance. Students with intellectual disabilities will also benefit from such an opportunity.

High quality educators

Educators all over the continent have been compelled by current circumstances to use digital tools efficiently to deliver their courses. This era allows educators to join online professional learning communities to pursue in-service career training to stay in touch with the trends, share tips and best practices to achieve the goal of an evolved and high-quality standard of education. Instructors can invite colleague educators from another university to deliver a guest lecture to their students.

In order to make education more meaningful to all students, we must make education more accessible and less expensive. Education should be a right and not a privilege.